How to Deal with Unsupportive Friends and Family

Sad girl

Often times on my Facebook, I hear of readers who have problems with their family and friends because they are not supportive of them and their goals.

I’ve already written a fair bit about unsupportive people in 8 Tips to Tackle Naysayers and 8 Helpful Ways To Deal With Critical People, though those articles are not about unsupportive friends or family per se. In today’s article, I’ll be sharing specifically what to do when you have unsupportive friends and family.

When Friends and Family are Unsupportive

Firstly, don’t feel bad if your friends and family are unsupportive of your goals. While the situation is not ideal, it’s definitely not indicative of the value of your goals. Just because others don’t support your goals doesn’t mean they are not worthwhile. If anything, they are probably more worthy than anything you’ve ever wanted to achieve, and hence your desire to pursue them.

Secondly, one tends to face resistance from others when he/she pursues goals worth pursuing. This is especially so if you are surrounded by people who tend to be more fear-based. Examples are people who tend to seek affirmation about everything they do, people who don’t think much about what they want to do in life, people who are quick to dismiss than accept changes, etc.

Having said that, it is probably useful to understand what exactly you define as “unsupportive”. What do you perceive as an unsupportive person? Is it a person who (a) discourages you from pursuing your goals, perhaps actively so? Or it it someone who (b) is neutral, perhaps slightly nonchalant about what you are doing, and doesn’t actively render help to you?

When Friends and Family Don’t Provide *Active* Support

I found that for some people, (b) may be seen as a big sign of being unsupportive, even though that may not be their intention.

For example, say Jane has an idea to start a photography business. This is her first time starting a business and she is extremely excited about it. She talks about it to her boyfriend, John, who listens but doesn’t provide any help. Dejected, she concludes that he is an unsupportive boyfriend.

Notice that the boyfriend provided a listening ear, which is support in a way—moral support. Jane felt that her boyfriend was unsupportive because he did not actively try to offer help, such as in the setting up of her business. He also did not share any suggestions on how she could build her business.

But it’s possible that he didn’t do that because she didn’t ask. It’s also possible that he didn’t know anything about photography or business management and hence decided not to offer any suggestions, lest they turned out unhelpful.

Example: Starting Personal Excellence (My Business)

When I first started Personal Excellence (the business, not just the site), I approached some of my friends to ask them if they had any contacts with teachers in public schools. I was building my portfolio as a trainer then, and schools were potential avenues for me to conduct training in. Being directly introduced to the teachers in schools would give my training pitch more credibility, since I was referred to them by their friends.

However, most of my friends either said they didn’t know of anybody working in schools or that they knew of some people, agreed to help me follow-up, but never got back thereafter.

At first it was a little disappointing, as it felt they were not being supportive of my endeavor. Singapore is a place where most people know at least 1-2 people working as a teacher (usually more), so it was hard to comprehend that almost all the people whom I approached said they didn’t know any teachers. As for the people who said they would help but never got back to me (even after I followed up), it made me wonder if they were merely paying lip service. If so, that would have been pretty sad (IMO, anyway).

However, when I reflected on the situation later on, I realized they were not being unsupportive, but merely offering what they could at their capacity. Some people might not be willing to go the extra mile to do such a favor for someone, unless it was for a very close kin. Other people might not be in close contact with their teacher friends, and hence it would have been too much of a hassle for them to reach out to them for an offbeat request like this. As for the people who promised to reach out but never did, perhaps they wanted to reject my request for the same reason, but felt awkward doing that in person because they didn’t know how to say no.

Instead of mentally faulting the people I had approached for being unsupportive, I should have been more appreciative of those who had offered to help, and the handful of gems who had pushed through with the favor in the end. And I definitely did, after I came to this realization. Those were the people whom I knew I could rely on for any further help or assistance in the future, and also people whom I’d go out of my way to help them in the future. (Not that I wouldn’t help the people who didn’t help me, just that I would make even more of an effort to help these people.)

The Psyche of Someone Embarking on a New Goal

Uncertainty Leading to Increase Reliance on Others

Sometimes, when we pursue things that really matter to us, or things which are brand new to us, we may feel more sensitive and vulnerable than usual, since we’re in an unknown area – which causes us to seek more validation and support from the others around us than we usually do. We become more reliant on our existing relationships to provide that.

And when the people around us don’t provide enough validation and support, we write them off as being unsupportive.

However, as I’ve illustrated with the examples above, this may not be the case. Our friends and families may not be trying to be unsupportive – they may simply be behaving the way they are. There could also be other reasons too. It could be that they are busy with other things in their life at the moment and hence are unable to give you the level of support you seek. It may also be that they are unaware you are actually seeking support from them.

3 Problems with Expecting Constant, Full Support From Others

The first thing is to recognize that it may not be reasonable to expect full, open-ended support from your friends and family all the time, for every single goal you pursue.

That’s because these people have other things, possibly even problems, going on in their life. This means they may not have the capacity to give you the support you need, such as time. Here’s another way of looking at it: Would you like it if your friends and family members continuously complained to you about how you were not showing enough support to them for their goals (regardless of whether you were doing so or not)? You might probably wonder why they were being so needy, demanding, and high maintenance.

Personally, I am very grateful to my friends for always being accepting of the help that I can give (or not give), never trying to pressurize me to give them more support in their goals. At the same time, I give whatever I can to the people I know I can assist.

The second thing is it puts too much pressure on your relationships with them, because you are too reliant on them to support you. If it bothers you that your friends and family don’t give you active support each time you work on your goals, you may be expecting more from them than they’re capable of giving you (at this moment). This already suggests a lopsided relationship dynamic which should be looked into.

The third thing is it may well not be within their ability to help you, especially if the kinds of support you’re looking for are intellectual (ideas) and resource-related (contacts, money). They may not have the knowledge of the goal to advise you on it. They may not have the resources you need for this particular goal you’re working on.

What You Can Do: Redirect Your Support Needs

In light of the problems of expecting constant support from others, I’d actually suggest you reduce the pressure you’re putting on your relationships by redirecting your support needs elsewhere, be it internally (yourself) or externally (other people). If I may say this, this is a great opportunity for you to practice being more self-sufficient.

1) Identify Your Support Needs

Here’s what you can do. First, identify the kind of support you’re looking for by understanding what exactly is the support you’re missing from people around you. Is it…

  1. Moral support (support in terms of spirit)?
  2. Physical support (spending time with you, physical presence)?
  3. Emotional support (listening to you, understanding your problems, encouraging you on)?
  4. Intellectual support (ideas, recommendations, analysis)?
  5. Resource support (sharing contacts, loaning money, providing valid resources, etc)?

Take a piece of paper and write down the category of support, as well as the specific details of the kind of support you need, in relation to your goals. Feel free to write down more than one category. List as many details as you want per category.

2) Identify How You Can Redirect these Needs… and Start Working on Them

After you are done, work out how you can redirect these support needs, assuming that your friends and family can’t provide them for you.

Say you need resource support in the form of connections (like in my example above about seeking relevant contacts), how can you get the contacts yourself then? (e.g., going to related networking events, sourcing via social media sites like LinkedIn and Facebook, looking up websites)

Or say you need intellectual support in the form of business ideas. Can you borrow some books on business management from the librar, do some self-reading, and in the process build your skill in this area? Can you seek out new contacts in the business world and approach them for help instead? Would you want to seek out a business coach as well to aid you in your business goal?

Or, maybe you are looking for emotional support. Can you connect with like-minded folks doing the same thing as you are now, perhaps in online forums, reading related online blogs, and/or joining related interest groups in real life? These people may be in a better position to empathize with your situation. (Read: ‘How Do I Meet Like-Minded People?’)

For example, if I’m working on losing weight, I reckon I’d get more support and empathy from people working on the same goal as I am, as opposed to a friend who has never had weight problems and has no interest in weight loss as a subject.

Identify these steps, then start working on them.

3) Have a Heart-to-Heart with Those Whose Support Really Matter

For the people whom you really want to show active support (for example, from your partner, your best friend, your parents) but who aren’t giving you that, a heart-to-heart talk is in place.

Let them know that this goal you’re working on now is something that’s very important to you. Because of that, you want to share it with the people who are most important to you, which would be them. Let them know you are currently in a crucial place in your goal (such as if you’re in the beginning phases), and their support would mean the world to you in helping you succeed.

While you’re doing this, let them know specifically the kind of support you would like to get from them. This should be support which only they can give you, and no one else can. As per my suggestion above, it’s not realistic to expect your friends and family to be the sole providers of all the support you need for your goal – your support requests should reflect the absolute kind of support you need from them.

At the same time, take the lead by recognizing the goals they are working on now and giving them support in those goals. For example, asking them how they are doing in those goals (emotional support), visiting and patronizing their businesses (physical, moral support), providing them books you think may help them in the area (resource support), and so on. This lets them know you care; this also gives them an example on the joy of having support from loved ones in the goals that matter.

When Friends and Family *Discourage* You (Actively)

On the other hand, if your situation is (active) discouragement from others regarding your goals, then it takes a little more tact to handle it.

Firstly, you should take their discouragement as a good thing. Whenever you get people dissuading you from pursuing something, that usually means there is great value hidden in the goal. This also means when you finally achieve your goal, there are going to be some really great things in store for you. Here’s a quote which I shared in 8 Tips to Tackle Naysayers, which also happens to be one of my favorite quotes ever:

[Geniuses] Wallpaper: “History shows us that the people who end up changing the world – the great political, social, scientific, technological, artistic, even sports revolutionaries – are always nuts, until they are right, and then they are geniuses.” ~ John Eliot

(You can also get this quote as a wallpaper on 15 Beautiful, Inspirational Wallpapers For Your Desktop – refer to the second wallpaper)

When I first made the decision to quit my corporate job and pursue my passion several years ago, I faced resistance all around, as I shared in the naysayers piece and this Ask Celes reply. The resistance didn’t daunt me though – in fact, I took it as a positive thing, because it meant that success was going to be even sweeter when I make it. The resistance also made me even more determined to pursue it and succeed, because then I could show people that everything they said were merely limiting beliefs, and anything is possible in this world (something which I’ve always believed in since young).

Secondly, people’s discouragement usually reflect their inner fears and beliefs. For example, if you have someone discouraging you from pursuing your goal to become a dancer, it says more about their belief that dancers don’t make good money or that it’s hard to make it as a dancer. However, this is only their belief, and not a fact.

When I went on my 21-day fast in Feb 2011, tons of people discouraged me, with some saying I’d die, and others adding nothing valuable to the table except showcasing their attachments and fears surrounding eating and food. Obviously none of what their fears came true, because they were merely their fears and not the reality.

Thirdly, when your friends and family make a point to share their disapproval, that’s really just their own special way of saying, “Hey, I care about you ♥.” It’s just that they don’t know how else to express that, especially if they are not good at expressing themselves. Hence, be happy and find joy in the fact that they are really trying to show care and concern for you. 🙂

What You Can Do When People Actively Discourage You

So, how should you handle such a situation then?

1) Address their Concerns (if applicable)

What I wrote in Ask Celes: Has Anyone Ever Discouraged You From Working on Your Blog? pretty much sums up what I have to say:

…you don’t have to shut out opinions from others on these areas – (1) Remain open to feedback from others, but at the same time evaluate them consciously. (2) Understand the source of any concerns so you can address them accordingly. (3) Adapt your plans if needed, but only if it’s for the betterment of your end vision. (4) Discard the unconstructive feedback at the end of the day.

Follow those 4 points above, and you will be in a good place. You don’t have to be defensive about their discouragement (after all what resists will persist) – understand why they react this way, and address their concerns accordingly.

2) Focus your Energy on your Goals (Let the Results Do the Talking)

If the unsupportive people in your life still proactively discourage you after you have tried to address their concerns (in a logical, calm manner, not by shouting or arguing), then clearly, it doesn’t matter what is said to them, because now they are reacting from their hang ups, and not so much about your situation.

At this point, it may be best to focus your energy on your goals and show them that you know what you’re doing via your actions and results, and not via verbal talk. Don’t spend too much time entertaining their fears, because you are just delaying your progress. Let your results do the talking.

Know that rejecting your goals or your plans doesn’t mean they are rejecting you per se. It just means they want you to be happy and they are unsure of whether your goals or plans can help to lead you to happiness. You should use their discouragement as an impetus to succeed faster and on a grander scale then, as a way of letting your friends and family know you are in a good place and they need not worry about you.

3) Tune Them Out

Having people actively discourage you on a regular basis regarding your goals is most definitely a very spirit-deflating experience.

I recommend to tune them out. Perhaps don’t cut them out totally from your life, but at the very least, reduce the time you spend with them. Many of the tips I wrote in 8 Tips to Tackle Naysayers will come in handy here. (#1, #4, #5, #7 in particular)

At the End: Learning To Be Self-Reliant

At the end of the day, having unsupportive friends and family shouldn’t deter you from achieving your goals. It’s not sustainable to always be reliant on others to give you support anyway, because others have their priorities just like you do, and those priorities may not always include you.

And I’m not saying this in a “Boo-hoo, we live in a cold world and there’s no one we can ever rely on” sort of way. That’s a ridiculous, self-limiting thought. I’m saying this as a “There are people who do want to help you. But there is a time and place for everything, and it’s not fair to expect constant attention and support from others all the time” sort of way. There comes a time when you need to step out on your own and become the person you are meant to be.

To begin with, your goal should be self-fueling and something that drives you forward. If you’re not capable of achieving it at the moment, that’s okay: develop the capability by cultivating the necessary skills. Even if you aren’t capable of doing so at the moment, you can always develop the capability by cultivating the necessary skills. Knowledge can be built, skills can be learned, new relationships can be fostered. If you’re always dependent on others’ support for your success, that means you will enter into descend into a state of limbo whenever people are not around to support you. That’s not a healthy situation to be in!

Whether others provide support for you or not should be a secondary factor, not a primary one. Great if they can give you support — cherish that and make the best out of it!If not, appreciate what you can get from them, while at the same time learn to redirect your support needs elsewhere, via the steps I have already outlined earlier in the article.

Take this as a big step in becoming a more self-sufficient and self-reliant person. Believe it or not, this is actually a great opportunity to build your identity outside of the current relationships you have, and to come into your own. Say your name is John. Who is John? Who is John outside of his relationships with others? What is he capable of accomplishing by himself? These are some existentialistic questions you’ll probably end up addressing during this journey.

Interestingly, you may find that as you become more self-sufficient, the people around you begin to show more interest, and perhaps offer more support, to your goals. You will definitely find that you start to be more confident, less needy, and more directive in what you do. That’s when you become a fuller person in your own right, and not someone who only exists within his/her relationships.

Check out some related articles below that supplement this article:

Coming into your own:

Developing your skills as you pursue your new goal(s):

Dealing with Unsupportive People:

Meeting new people who will be more compatible in providing support for your new goal(s):

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